Madonna was born on the 16th of August 1958 in Rochester, Michigan, USA. Her family lived in Pontiac, Michigan at the time, but were visiting grandmothers in Bay City when Madonna decided to appear in the world. She was christened Madonna Louise Ciccone, but her family used to call her ‘Little Nonni’. When she was only five years old the mother she loved died of breast cancer. Madonna talks: “One of the hardest things I’ve faced in my life was the death of my mother and that’s something I haven’t got over to this day.” Madonna learned to be strong and independent early in life and she carries a clear memory of her mother’s courage: “She tried to keep her fear deep down inside and not let us know – she never complained”.
When the mother died the Ciccone family was torn apart. Madonna and her brothers and sisters were sent to live with various relatives until, after a couple of years to Madonna’s horror, her father Tony married their housekeeper Joan Gustafson- a real disciplinarian. Her father insisted that the children have to call his new wife ‘mother’ but Madonna found that very hard to do. She never called Joan’s mother. Madonna was the oldest girl of eight children and that is the reason she caught most of the responsibility. Madonna remembers: “As the oldest girl in my family, I felt like all my adolescence was spent taking care of babies. I think that’s when I really thought about how I wanted to get away from all that. I saw myself as the quintessential Cinderella.” And about his father, Madonna says: “If we didn’t have school homework then father find us something do to around the house – he was very adamant about us being productive.” And also, “If my father hadn’t been so strict I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
When Madonna was small, she loved to hum along to songs on the radio as she helped with the housework. She remembers: “There was always music in our house, either records or the radio or someone singing on the bathtub.” Soon her father wanted her to take piano lessons because most of the family played a musical instrument and his father was really big on that. This was not to be, Madonna was her father’s favorite and persuaded him to let her take dance lessons instead!
Madonna was 12 years old when she entered the local Catholic high school [Saint Andrews, Saint Fredericks, Academie Du Sacre Coeur]. It was oppressive and she recalls “they would hit you across the back with a stapler if you were disobedient”. It was at this school though that she learned a great deal from classes in tap, jazz dancing, baton twirling, and Gymnastics. It was here that she started to display the extrovert Madonna which hitherto only her family had experienced. “I wanted to do everything everybody told me I couldn’t do, I couldn’t wear make-up, I couldn’t wear nylons, I couldn’t cut my hair, I couldn’t go on dates, I couldn’t even go to the movies with my friends”. She craved attention by wearing odd socks, appearing in a friend’s home movie with a fried egg on her stomach. She also appeared in a local talent contest where she danced to a record by ‘The Who’ wearing only a bikini and body paint.
As said before, she wanted to do everything she was told she shouldn’t or couldn’t. She’d roll up her uniform skirt until it was short, She’d go into the bathroom and put make-up and nylon stockings on. She was incredibly flirtatious. Apart from being a flirtatious rebel, Madonna was very good at her schoolwork. Madonna remembers “I was really competitive in school with my grades and stuff coz my father used to give us rewards if we got “A” on our report cards. It wasn’t so much that I was interested in learning…..my father gave us 25 cents for every “A” that we got so I wanted to earn the most amount of money.” Not so surprisingly Madonna shone in the school’s theatre department, where she was given the lead role in several of their productions. After Madonna left school she attended the University of Michigan on a dance scholarship, where she studied under ballet school owner, Chris Flynn. She recalls “I really loved him. He was my mentor, my father, my imaginary lover, everything.”
Pretty soon after studying for some time at the University of Michigan Madonna wanted to go to New York to chase her dreams. Everyone was against the idea but her dance teacher said, “Go for it!” – and luckily for us, she did! So there she was, finally in New York, standing in the middle of Times Square (on arriving in the big city she had asked the taxi driver to take her to ‘the middle of everything’), with just thirty-five dollars, a satchel full of tights, dance shoes under one arm and a giant doll under the other. Madonna remembers: “When I came to New York it was the first time I’d ever taken a plane, the first time I’ve ever gotten a taxi-cab, the first time for everything. And I came here with 35 dollars in my pocket. It was the bravest thing I’d ever done. My goal was to conquer the city and I feel I have.” And also “Although I took to New York straight away I was really lonely.
I would take whatever I could in a taxi-cab to wherever I was going to next. I’d take a big breath, grit my teeth, blink back my tears and say, “I’m gonna do it- I have to do it because there’s nowhere else for me to go”. This was the start of hard times for Madonna. She lived in a terrible house, cuz Madonna hadn’t money for better. She remembers: “When my father first came to visit me, he was mortified. The place was crawling with cockroaches. There were winos in the hallways, and the entire place smelled like stale beer” Then she won a scholarship at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, where she spent two years working hard at her classes during the day and even harder at night, holding down a succession of part-time jobs in fast-food restaurants to make a little extra money.
Sometimes she also visited a club called the “Blue Froggie”, the bar where she first met Steve Bray. She was a talented musician but his relationship with Madonna was more on the physical plane. After a while, Madonna realized that the way to the top for her was not going to be through pure modern dance. It wasn’t the competition that put her off but the lack of work opportunities. There were too many people going after too few jobs. She started auditioning for theatre and musical parts and ended up being whisked away to Paris, where she was to take part in a revue backing the lead singer Patrick Hernadez. Hernadez’s management realized they had something special on their hands with Madonna but was too slow to do anything about it and when she complained they would give her more money – they didn’t. So it was goodbye to Paris and hello again to New York.
Madonna returned to New York with a fiery determination to succeed in the music industry. She moved in again with Dan Gilroy, an old boyfriend. He and some friends that they had met while at dance school, had got a group together called ‘The Breakfast Band’ – they needed a drummer, so Madonna filled the gap. She then persuaded Dan to write some songs for her to sing as the group’s lead singer.
After she had been with them a few months she realized that they were getting nowhere and so went off alone to form her own band with herself as the lead singer. During the following few months, they played a succession of dodgy New York clubs to establish a name for themselves on the music circuit. It wasn’t easy. The band went through many changes in its membership and name. At the time the clubs were more interested in Punk and New Wave stuff but Madonna plugged away at it. She was offered the occasional bit of modeling work and a part in a short(60 min) ‘art’ film called ‘A Certain Sacrifice’.
Madonna finally got a deal with Gotham Records, worth one hundred dollars a week. Steve Bray went with her as drummer and songwriter. She kept at it and eventually got a record deal with ‘Sire Records’ for only $5000 and released her first single ‘Everybody’. When it was first played on the radio and in clubs, many fans mistook Madonna for an Afro-American disco diva. The record company also didn’t put Madonna’s picture on this single’s cover, they wanted people to think that she was Afro-American, to sell more records. ‘Everybody’ sold over 250 000 copies and went to No.3 in the dance charts. John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez found Madonna the song ‘Holiday’ which was an instant hit, but Madonna first hit the top ten with “Borderline”. It’s rumored that her vocals were mechanically altered to make her sound more girlie. Her first album ‘Madonna’, released in 1983 won her wide acclaim and millions of fans, plus invitations to move into films.
Not only was Madonna setting the tone music-wise, but she was also creating a whole new fashion. In the “Lucky Star” music video, she showcased her Boy Toy image. Madonna’s style was so popular that the world-famous lingerie store ‘Fredericks of Hollywood’ reported a 40 % increase in sales, which they put down to the Material Girl’s image.
Never letting an opportunity to make a fast buck pass her by, Madonna set up her own “Wazoo” clothing label. Among other things, “Wazoo” manufactured rubber bracelets and Boy Toy belt buckles. It wasn’t long before millions of girl fans the world overtook on the raggy clothes of their number 1 pop heroine. But it wasn’t just the clothes that were developing Madonna’s raunchy reputation. Her music was about to take a new and controversial turn. The new album ‘Like A Virgin’ (1984) established Madonna as a popular artist and soon nearly everyone had a copy of this album.
It gained 3X platinum status in the US charts immediately! Interesting is, that Madonna’s first album ‘Madonna'(1938) was still doing pretty well on the charts when a new album was released. The year 1985 was VERY busy for Madonna. The music video ‘Material Girl’ came out on the 1st of February, the movie “Vision Quest” on February 15th, and the movie “Desperately Seeking Susan” on March 29th. Her role in “Desperately Seeking Susan” added a significant facet to her image. Madonna’s singles: “Material Girl” and “Crazy For You “(from the ‘Vision Quest’ movie soundtrack) were both top five hits. “Crazy for you” gave Madonna her first Grammy nomination. Madonna’s first big tour (she traveled through the whole US) was named after her album- “The Virgin Tour”(1985).
It went from smaller venues to sold-out arenas in a matter of months. During the “Material Girl” video shooting she met Sean Penn. And just after saying “I wouldn’t wish being Mr. Madonna on anyone”, she married him. Madonna remembers “I was jumping up and down on my bed, performing one of my morning rituals and all of a sudden Sean gets this look in his eye and all of a sudden I knew what he was thinking.
I said: whatever you`re thinking I`ll say yes to. That was his chance, so he popped it.” On the 16th of August, 1985- they married in a Malibu media circus, 13 helicopters with paparazzi photographers were soaring in circles during the wedding ceremony, the groom Sean Penn tried to beat some paparazzi photographers, who were spying in the bushes. Madonna remembers: “I didn’t think I was going to be married with 13 helicopters flying over my head, it turned into a circus. At first, I was outraged but at the end, I was laughing.”
Madonna’s marriage to Sean Penn officially ended on the 10th of January,1989 when Madonna – for the second time – filed for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. She did not get married again until just recently when she married Guy Ritchie.
Since the year 1985, Madonna is known as a person who can do anything: she is a singer, an actress, a composer, a producer, and an executive. Madonna has success everywhere. She has broken every available radio, video, sales, and box-office record, racking up no fewer than 29 Top Ten singles, 11 of those reaching No. 1. It’s a world record! 1994’s “Take A Bow,” was lodged in the top spot for seven consecutive weeks and beat the performance of her 1984 breakthrough, “Like A Virgin,” which had a six-week run at the top.
All told, Madonna’s No. 1 and No. 2 singles have spent a total of 40 weeks at the top of the charts — almost a solid year of uninterrupted hits! Every studio album she has released has reached the Top 15. All, but one has made it into the Top 10, and seven have attained Top 5 status. Madonna’s international album sales are estimated at topping 120 million units. Pivotal as recorded music is to Madonna’s unparalleled success, she has had more videos, played more often, than any other artist in the history of the MTV network. Multi-awarded for these videos, Madonna has made a ground-breaking contribution to the video art form, as she has in her unstoppable sell-out music tours that combine music, theatrics, spectacle, and dazzling charisma and have packed stadiums globally for nearly two decades.
Those big heart breakers mean of course big money and that’s why (according to several business magazines) Madonna is the richest woman in the world followed closely by Oprah Winfrey. Madonna makes about 130 million US$ for a year !!! Continuously released albums, singles, music- videos, and movies hold Madonna’s myth high.
As if she wasn’t busy enough already, Madonna dropped another bundle of joy into the world in September. No, not another child. This time, Madonna delivered Music, her first full-length album since the Grammy-winning Ray of Light. It was, of course, a huge hit, but much more than anyone could have expected. Music entered the album sales charts at No. 1, not just in the United States, but in 22 other countries, as well, including her new adopted home, England. Selling 420,000 copies in the first week in the U.S. alone, Music was Madonna’s first album to hit the top slot in 11 years — not bad for a 42-year-old mother of two.
Born: 16 August 1958 (age 62 years), Bay City, Michigan, United States
Children: Lourdes Leon, Rocco Ritchie, David Banda, Mercy James, Estere Ciccone, Stelle Ciccone
Spouse: Guy Ritchie (m. 2000–2008), Sean Penn (m. 1985–1989)
Awards: Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album.
TV shows: MTV News, Britney: For the Record.